Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Caretakers Redux

"Look, do you want the plutonium, or not?" asked Edward Hopper, the bronze robot's voice booming from fourteen feet above me.

"We do! We want it! I just don't understand why we have to wear these goofy suits when we are around them", I replied.

"It's for your protection. Besides, they poop out more of it when they are comfortable!"

"They're robots!"

"They're also animals. They have feelings like I do." 

"Yeah, but you programmed 'em that way!"

"I'm trying to help you guys out here! I'm starting to think you don't appreciate me".  

That's the extended caption that came into my head as I looked at the latest bronze, The Caretakers.

Yeah, it's finally done. I dicked around on this far too long. Fact is, I did learn some things this time out. The last bronzes, The Stockmen, which I rushed through production in order to submit them for a show they did not get in, had severe casting defects on the figures. These were corrected with proper feed runners. Almost corrected. The figures still had shrinkage porosity defects, aka "sucks", which I will take care of next time.
"sucks" in the same spot on both figures
But the Caretaker bugs were not vented properly. They ended up with some pretty severe gas porosity defects.

This has resulted in a new rule with the acronym ABV.
Gas Porosity from lack of vents
Always Be Venting.

The other big problems with casting, and ones that I should avoid and usually do, is turbulence and oxide inclusions.

This is all about skimming the bronze of shit before pouring, and proper rigging. Proper rigging meaning the obvious like, lots of runner and vents, but more importantly, I've found from experience to avoid right angles and make the rigging more organic and treelike or arterial*, so that a common sprue acts like a manifold and feeds everything rapidly and uniformly.

Surprisingly, or not so, some fluid dynamic studies back up my intuitive hunches and empirical observations:

So, one of these days, I may actually have a defect free casting... through luck. Here are some other pics of The Caretakers:

*Actually, I try and follow an old empirical law of circulation, in determining how many smaller diameter runners feed off a larger one, so that the number of runners needed is the sum of the cube of radius of the larger runner. In other words, the spherical volumes that can be fed from a smaller diameter runner tube sums up to the spherical volume of the larger runner tube.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Aurignacian Efflorescence

I've joked about how my mother's father's side of the family were Neanderthals, but no, they were just ugly anatomically modern humans. Although it is true that most of us have about 1-4% Neanderthal genes. Svante Pääbo (pronounced PEH-boo, if you really want to know), who has sequenced the Neanderthal genome, has an interesting observation. We tend to think that modern humans were dominant over Neanderthals, as they are now extinct. But the gene flow evidence suggest from Neanderthals to humans. This type of gene flow is seen where one social group is dominant over another, and that the dominant group fathers children that remain with the non-dominant group. Examples are white slave owners in the Americas, and British colonials in South Asia, passing their genes into a population they control.

The evidence is not conclusive for this, but let's run with it. So, prior to what are known as "replacement humans" making a migration out of Africa some 75-50,000 years ago, a first wave of anatomical humans shared the Middle East with Neanderthals, and the Neanderthals enslaved, or at least intimidated, that first wave of humans. 

The question you might ask is, who are these replacement humans, and why were the first wave humans not dominant? And the answer is found in the archaeological evidence. The stone tools in use by both Neanderthals and first wave humans were identical and unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years, kind of indicating a similar and static set of cultural tools as well. Given an equal tool kit, the physically more powerful Neanderthals probably had an advantage (see Gods versus Titans myths from all over the world). But then, starting with the late Mousterian tool kit, and progressing into the Aurignacian tool kit, humans using these tools start to occupy sites where Neanderthal tools existed. Neanderthals start to disappear.

Keep in mind, the Aurignacian stone tools are much more various and sophisticated, and are associated with the so-called Cultural Big Bang, when the first cave art, animal figurines, and probably rope, twine, and textile objects appear (base on the prevalence of fine bladed flint, bone needle, and fish hook tools).This Aurignacian Efflorescence really took off in a big way, and practically every habitable surface of the Earth was populated in a few short millennia. Many suggest this cultural sophistication was the result of language.Oh, bullshit. There is plenty of anatomical evidence to suggest language predated the Aurignacian Efflorescence by several hundred thousand years. 

So, what did it? Genetics? Hardly.

My answer? Bows and arrows. And a peculiar form of psychopathy that exists to this day, perhaps best made manifest through our habit of genocide. We ape versions of solenopsis invicta, armed with our projectile stings, swarmed out of Africa to conquer the world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Final Kickstarter Reward

...and only six months late! Well, it was for my nephew, and he knew about my medical problems and how I was a little delayed on everything. And then I had to get sculptures ready for shows. But it's all done, and now all I have to do is specimen boxes of cast glass. I was supposed to 30, and I ended up with 10.

Anyway, here's the reward from start to finish. The cast glass and bronze waxes:

The bronzes in their raw state:

The cast glass piece:

The finished bronzes:

And an impromptu presentation of the reward. The wood shelf I slapped together from scraps:

Friday, April 25, 2014

I have committed multiple perversions

Back in 2001, I was commissioned by the glassblower to make a pickup kiln for him. I was proud of the fact that I came up with a pickup that used a cantilevered pickup shelf using drawer slides underneath so you didn't need to buy high temperature rollers like what they use in glass lehrs.

Building the pickup kiln got me interested in gas kilns and burners and furnaces, and I decided to make a propane-powered version of a vitrigraph.

Reason I did that was vitrigraphs are electric kilns raised above the ground with a hole in the bottom of them for soft glass to stream out of, and since they are electric there is the risk of a shock. So, that would not be problem with propane-powered one. So, I built a series of them, and finally ended up with what was called the Stringinator Mark II.

Now, at first I just used the kiln to make thin pieces of stringer, where you put scrap color glass into a flower pot and then heat it up to flow out quickly and make thin strings of glass. But then I decided to see if I could make cane, and I could. It was kind of a pain in the ass, because I had to crouch in an uncomfortable position on the floor. Looking up into the bottom of the kiln played Hob with my neck, but  I'd grab the nubbin of glass coming out of the flower pot with tongs, and then as you pull the glass slowly down, it would cool enough you could grab it with your bare fingers. ("Cool enough" being a relative term. My calloused fingers tips didn't seem to mind that it burned a little).

So then, I would twist the glass to make candy cane type of stuff, and then really rapidly twist the two-colored glass to make what I called "supertwisties". So, then I got bored with making helices, and would stop twisting the cane one way, and start twisting it the other way, and make what are called hemihelices.

So, then I got into a regular pattern of twist one way, stop, twist the other way, stop, back to twisting the first way, etc. I don't have any pictures of the glass vases or bottles that used these alternating supertwisties for surface patterns. A number of renters really liked them. But the interesting pattern, when these canes got spread out from the heat and getting blown larger I had no name for.

But now I know there is name for them. A hemihelix with multiple perversions:

I'll see if any of the renters can find a picture of this pattern.

Update: Couldn't find the glass. Here is a link to the video:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


The past three months, I've been staring at a "Check Engine" light on my dashboard, and the past two months I've been dreading what that high pitched whine coming from my engine meant. I knew I was going to spend money, and I went through a turmoil of uncertainty and procrastination before I finally decided I had to do something.

The idea of my car either breaking down in some inconvenient spot at some inconvenient time, or actually endangering my life, had my stomach turning into knots. So, I took the car in today.

And, I'll be spending about $1300. Worn bearing in the idler pulley explains the high pitched whine. And the "Check Engine" light is both the oxygen sensors and a catalytic converter.

The mechanic asked "What do you want to do?".

Now, once I'm given that question, with an unknown bogeyman suddenly known, I have no problems.

"Do it, baby" I replied.

At least I have an unknown dread behind me. I know what I face, and it doesn't look all that bad. I've now to do some hustling and budget juggling, cost cutting, and with more bills on the way... well, there's always more bills on the way. I am now in a very good mood. And it occurs to me, that, even though I need the car, I don't need that for everything, and the weather is turning nice...

Good thing I have that bicycle.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Refractory Electronics

I've had a couple of hare-brained ideas in my time. One was to build this really big solar paraboloid, like 40 feet across with the focal concentration power of a couple hundred thousand suns, and position it so that it would focus the sun just twice a year. Then, on say, spring and fall equinox, you would put a hot dog or something, in the focal point, and watch it vaporize and/or explode.

Another idea I had was to purchase a series of shredders and chippers and dust makers and take, say, an automobile, and reduce it to as fine a dust as I could. And then package it. A can of Rolls Royce tickle your fancy?

The problem with both these schemes is I lacked the capital to do it. Both of these schemes are competely feasible, they merely require monies.

A while ago a friend/acquaintance was going to work on an intelligent kiln. It would keep track of all sorts of stuff going on inside it. At the time, I said, well, what really want in order to that is a whole bunch of wireless sensors that report on all the little volumes inside the kiln, and so it would be really the intelligent object inside the kiln that guided how the kiln would fire it. But in order for that to happen, sophisticated electronic devices would have to be built that could take the heat. And as far as I knew at the time, no one was working on that.

And now I find out about plasmonic metamaterials, and the potential, should they take the technology in its logical course, for refractory electronic devices.  And actually, given the huge amount of waste hear we as a society produce, thermionic electronics make even more sense.

People are looking for carbon-neutral energy sources, when we could be using all that waste energy!

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Charles Koch: Spoiled Rotten

I wanted to comment on the crybaby whine of Charles Koch posing as an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal (although, to be honest, ALL editorials in the Wall Street Journal pose as editorials).

I know it was published back on April 2nd, but I've been busy, OK? I know others have already made fun of Charles Koch, but I want a swipe at him as well. And then there are those stooges who know how to lick this goon's boot nice and clean, like Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, who read the entirety of his boss's editorial on the Senate floor.

Come to think of it, I wonder if April 2nd is April Fool's Day for rich people? You know, like Boxing Day is after Christmas? It would make a whole lot more sense, because then, after Koch goes about wrapping himself up in the flag about caring about your liberties, he could have said, "Nah. April Fool's! I don't give a shit about you little people who weren't thoughtful and resourceful enough to inherit wealth. FUCK Y'ALL!"

A new study came out confirming what we all knew: the United States of America is an oligarchy.

Actually, I'm guessing one thousand years from now, future historians will go further, and observe the American experiment was one of the greatest criminal enterprises ever (because, you know, no one got punished).

There is pretty solid empirical evidence that monied interests have controlled public policy from day 1, not to mention the system set up by the Founding Fathers has a substantial status quo bias. And so it makes Koch's editorial all the more dishonest, and the general complaint of rich goons and their stooges that government doesn't work rather disingenuous. (Rather a self-fulfilling prophecy given that they are controlling public policy).

Which means either Koch is delusional in the way authoritarians are (it is not enough that I fuck with you, you must love and respect me for it), or is just cynically fucking with us regular folk while he and his Thurston Howell III cronies laugh over drinks at the club about it. Either way, we get fucked, and the op-ed is such a transparently infantile little whine that my first impulse is to say to Koch "I'll give you something to cry about"!

And given that conditions are about the same, or worse, as when Franklin Roosevelt gathered his generation of oligarchs together and told them that public sentiment demanded they make concessions, else find themselves hung upside-down with their severed genitals stuffed in their mouths, perhaps it is time for the current crop of rich goons to reevaluate things.

Oh, right, and the New Yorker has a fascinating article out about extreme spelunkers.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

In a different reality, on or around this date, April 3rd, 2014, 8 million tons of a city-sized Super Orion ship would have reached Alpha Centauri.

That's leaving Earth in 1961, accelerating to 10% of the speed of light, with turnaround and deceleration occurring about a tenth of a light year out from Alpha C, is pretty close to an arrival in 2014. What they find is dead rock and gas giants, but then, with 1960s life-support technology, the chance of anyone arriving alive is pretty slim, so a ghost ship traveling to a dead world sounds appropriate.

And, if we launch the sucker from Earth's surface, we've added only about the fallout of a 40 megaton bomb to the ecosphere's burden. But keep in mind, 1961 was kind of a banner year for nuclear fallout. The US of A conducted (officially) 1,054 nuclear bomb tests that year. That's the equivalent of 3 per day. Not to be outdone the Sovietski Soyuz set off the Tsar Bomb, all 50 megatons worth.

The next year, 1962, the US of A tried out a little canal digging with the 104 kiloton Sedan test.

The test was a success in digging out a crater, which I guess they had doubts about, but the resulting fallout, some 880,000 curies of radioactive iodine-131, rained down particularly heavily on three counties in Iowa. The fact that we have no reliable data on the effects has a lot to do with the annoying habit of Americans not to stick in one place. On the other hand, Sedan, and Dirty Harry got nothing on Chernobyl, with some 3 billion curies of iodine-131 released over the ten days it burned.

Chernobyl could not have been more poorly thought out. You've got the worst of two behaviors involved, a material that loves to burn used as the neutron moderator (graphite), and a material that loves to explode (as steam) as the coolant (pressurized water). As an added bonus, a large swimming pool of water was placed underneath the reactor core, so that large chunks of red hot graphite and radionuclides could fall into it and flash steam the water into 1603 times it's original volume in milliseconds.  The bioshield that separated the naked reactor core from the sky was an 8 foot thick piece of concrete. When the core blew, the explosion flipped that giant concrete plug like a coin, and it didn't come down heads.

In a different reality, we probably could have had a Chernobyl as early as the Napoleonic era. Ever heard of plumbago? Being a metals guy, I was first made aware of the term in the 7th grade, when I first sand cast pot metal in shop class.

The term comes from the Plumbago mine in Seathwaite, Borrowdale, Lake District of the UK. Good solid British graphite was used to produce plutonium in the Windscale site.

The really amazing thing is just how frigging primitive an atomic pile is. Pure graphite surrounding natural uranium ore straight out of the ground gets you an atomic pile. (Why, natural reactors existed before humans). Given that natural uranium ore exists in Cornwall, and was in fact mined in the South Terras Mine, one can imagine a set of circumstances that resulted in a British atomic pile as early as 1789, when uranium was discovered.

Could a fission bomb haver been produced before 1944? Well, if you know what your about, a gun type uranium bomb could be produced from one of those old gunpowder Turkish cannons, circa 1465. All of the required technologies existed as early as 1870, but, no probably not. After all, the atomic theory wasn't really taken seriously until 1905, and I sincerely doubt raw empiricism itself could have gotten to an a-bomb.

Just as well, don't you think?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In the Garden of the Melonheads

Once, I wrote up a design description about steampunk, dieselpunk, and rocketpunk. Here's a further explication.

Steampunk is what you get when Science reaches the end of knowledge circa 1899 or so. I know most people imagine zeppelins and goggles and top hats with clocks in them when they think steampunk, but I would prefer to think of the state of scientific knowledge and energy source.

  • Steampunk design is stuck with coal or wood as its energy source.
  • Dieselpunk adds gasoline and oil.
  • Rocketpunk includes nuclear fission.

Here's the thing I got to wonder about. Through simple extended and aggregated monkey empiricism, humanity was using technologies not at all theoretically understood. Wootz steel, for example, was being manufactured in large quantity centuries, or perhaps millennia, before modern materials sciences in the 1930s quantified the exact properties that made the steel desirably functional.

Why didn't the Romans have steam power and railroads? They certainly had the ability to build high pressure vessels out of bronze or even iron, and most of the principles utilized by Oliver Evans and Richard Tevithick were understood by the ancients. So why not?

Why didn't James Watt power his stationary steam engine with an atomic pile? Some old-fashioned curiosity, coupled with good British graphite and natural thorium ore, should have resulted in a nice house-sized fission reactor in or around Manchester.

Clearly, the answer was, they hadn't figured it out yet, or, if they had, they didn't need it. Respectively, muscle (slave and animal), wind and water power, or wood and coal power, were sufficient for the Romans and English. But still... once you see how easy it is to make this shit....

Still and all, I'm glad I don't live in a steampunk or dieselpunk world, or at least, not entirely. We still do, as evidenced by all the soot, and dirt, and pollution, and fucking up of our water supplies.

Give me a rocketpunk world, in fact, give me a world populated with a specific kind of breeder reactors, and I really don't have a problem with that at all. I really don't.